2019
September
12
Thursday

Today’s stories examine a different view of a changing Texas, a problem of perception for female presidential candidates, the unexpected way scientific integrity went viral, how colleges think about your kid, and the country music history you didn’t know.

But first, why you might want to say hello to someone you don’t know today.

Fear of the stranger is educated into us from the time we are kids. And there can be common sense in it. “Don’t get into a stranger’s car” is wise advice, on the whole. But readers of the Monitor will be well acquainted with the kindness of strangers.

Dave Scott wrote Tuesday about how strangers gave a young Florida boy a beautiful sense of self-worth. Patrik Jonsson wrote Monday about how strangers’ extraordinary generosity is changing the dynamics of disaster relief. In The Washington Post Wednesday, I read about strangers who lined up more than 100 yellow cars outside a young cancer survivor’s window on his birthday because he loved Bumblebee from the “Transformers” films.

It’s too easy to cast these off as isolated incidents. But a recent Wall Street Journal article talks about the uplifting effect strangers can have on our lives. “People feel more connected when they talk to strangers, like they are part of something bigger,” says one psychologist.

At a time when news is so often filled with the fear of the stranger – from members of a different religion to people from another country – it is a reminder that the most remarkable blessings often come from those we know least.

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1. ‘Texodus’: Why the Lone Star state might turn blue

Texas is changing, with liberal voters gaining more clout. But it’s worth looking deeper at the narrative of why the state is changing and how fast.

Mark
Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News/AP
Heather Buen mounts Norman the bull for a photo before an opening reception at the Texas Democratic Convention, June 21, 2018, at the Fort Worth Convention Center. Texas Democrats this week released a detailed plan for turning the state "blue" in next year's elections.

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As Texas moves slowly but inevitably into majority-minority status, it’s become something of a biennial tradition to ask if the next election will finally mark the end of decades of Republican dominance in the state.

But next year could, as the saying goes, be the year.

Lately, a rash of congressional Republicans opting not to run for reelection – a phenomenon some are calling the “Texodus” – has fueled Democrats’ excitement. And to understand why Texas politics is shifting, many say, you shouldn’t just look at the state’s growing Hispanic population. You should look at where those GOP retirements are happening: around the booming, increasingly liberal cities.

“The two broad demographic trends that are occurring nationally are: number one, blue-collar working-class voters are becoming more conservative. That is turning Midwestern states more Republican,” GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told reporters at the Monitor Breakfast on Thursday. At the same time, “suburban voters – in particular suburban women – have been moving left. That’s turning states with big suburban populations – states like Texas, states like Georgia, states like Arizona – much more purple.”

“If we lose Texas,” he adds, “it’s game over.” 

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‘Texodus’: Why the Lone Star state might turn blue

In the run-up to the 2008 election, when Brandy Derrick was first becoming politically aware, she joined millions of Texans in voting to reject Democratic nominee Barack Obama. Former GOP Sen. John McCain carried Tarrant County, where she lives, by double digits.

He won Texas by a similar margin, but Tarrant, which includes the city of Fort Worth and its suburbs, was the only urban county he won. Three other major metropolitan counties – Bexar (San Antonio), Dallas, and Harris (Houston) – flipped that year to join Travis County (Austin) in voting Democratic, and they haven’t flipped back since.

Last year, Tarrant County joined them, voting for a statewide Democrat – U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke – for the first time since 1990. Ms. Derrick, owner of Legal Ease Bookkeeping in Fort Worth, was not surprised.

“I think Texas as a whole is moving that way,” she says.

Democrats certainly hope so – but then, they’ve been hoping so for a while. With Texas slowly but inevitably moving into majority-minority status, it’s become something of a biennial tradition in the Lone Star State to ask if the next election will finally mark the end of decades of Republican dominance.

Every dawn has been false. Last year, Sen. Ted Cruz beat Mr. O’Rourke despite becoming the first top-of-the-ticket Republican to lose in all of the major Texas metro areas since Barry Goldwater in 1964. But next year could, as the saying goes, be the year. While no Democrat won statewide in 2018, in terms of turnout and down-ballot races the party had its best election in decades.

Loren Elliott/Reuters
Beto O'Rourke speaks with members of the media following a rally at Texas Southern University in Houston, during his campaign for U.S. Senate, October 9, 2018. The former congressman, who lost that race to Sen. Ted Cruz, is now running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Lately, a rash of congressional Republicans opting not to run for reelection – a phenomenon some are calling the “Texodus” – has only fueled Democrats’ excitement. And to understand why Texas politics is shifting, many say, you shouldn’t just look at the state’s growing Hispanic population. You should look at where those GOP retirements are happening: around the booming, increasingly liberal cities.

“The two broad demographic trends that are occurring nationally are: number one, blue-collar working-class voters are becoming more conservative. That is turning Midwestern states more Republican,” Senator Cruz told reporters at the Monitor Breakfast on Thursday. At the same time, “suburban voters – in particular suburban women – have been moving left. That’s turning states with big suburban populations – states like Texas, states like Georgia, states like Arizona – much more purple.”

“If we lose Texas,” he adds, “it’s game over.” 

An urban-suburban boom

As measured by job creation and population growth, the “Texas Triangle” bounded by Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio-Austin is the strongest economic region in the United States. While Houston is the hub of the U.S. energy industry, big tech companies are settling in Austin (Google and Apple) and Dallas (Uber).

And with a large, young, and college-educated workforce flocking to live and work in the region, these Texas cities and suburbs have been both gaining political power and becoming more solidly liberal. Research by Renée Cross and Richard Murray at the University of Houston has found that voters in the 27 counties around big metro areas grew from 52% of the total electorate in 1968 to 69% in 2018. Meanwhile, voters in the more rural counties – outside the Democratic strongholds in south Texas – decreased from 38% to 8% in that time.

Mr. O’Rourke in particular was effective in ginning up support and – crucially, for a low-turnout demographic – votes from young Texans. He carried the state’s five major urban counties by a combined 790,000 votes last year, six times more than Mr. Obama in 2012. Registering and turning out more voters in those cities and suburbs is at the core of Texas Democrats’ plan, released this week, to flip “the biggest battleground state in the country.”

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas speaks to reporters at the Monitor Breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel on Sept. 12, 2019, in Washington, D.C. "I believe the president will win Texas" in 2020, Senator Cruz predicted. But "I think it will be closer than last time."

The “Texodus” suggests that Republicans in the state may have the same concerns. Four of the five congressmen who will be stepping down next year represent suburban districts that have become increasingly competitive; the fifth, Rep. Will Hurd, represents a vast border district that is the most competitive in the state.

“The people [Texas] is attracting, the job opportunities, are magnets for younger voters, voters who are perhaps more liberal,” says Ann Bowman, a political scientist at Texas A&M University. “The Beto effect was mobilizing younger voters,” she adds. “Are we going to see that in 2020? The general trend is for younger voters to turn out less.”

An unpopular president

What could boost Democratic turnout is the Republican ticket being led by one of the most unpopular presidents in recent memory. Just 45% of registered voters in Texas approve of President Trump, while 50% don’t, according to a poll this week from Quinnipiac University. He trailed most of his Democratic challengers head-to-head in the state in a recent University of Texas at Tyler survey.

Mr. Trump’s often harsh and divisive rhetoric “trumps anything he’s doing with the economy for many suburban women,” says Nancy Bocskor, director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at Texas Woman’s University in Denton.

“Suburban women are going to turn out and vote,” she adds. “That’s a bigger wild card here than the growing number of Hispanic voters.”

Decades of political dominance in Texas could also now be making life more difficult for Republicans.

As in states around the country, a lack of competitive general elections has led to competitive primaries, with Republicans drifting further and further to the right since former President George W. Bush built his presidential campaign on “compassionate conservatism” and his ability to work with Democrats while governor of Texas. This in turn has alienated moderate voters, including in suburbs that used to be conservative strongholds.

“If all you’re doing as a political party is communicating with your primary voters, that’s a great way to perhaps win the next election, but what it is not is a way to grow your party,” says Harold Cook, a longtime Democratic strategist in Texas.

Mary Clare Jalonick/AP/File
GOP Rep. Will Hurd (left) and former Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke pose for a photo at the U.S. Capitol on March 15, 2017, after completing a bipartisan road trip from their home state of Texas to Washington, D.C. Mr. Hurd has announced he will not seek reelection in 2020.

Republicans in the state legislature responded to that head-on in the legislative session earlier this year, avoiding the polarizing cultural issues like the failed “bathroom bill” that had marked the 2017 session in favor of pocketbook issues like property tax and public education reform. Whether those efforts generated enough goodwill to help Republicans 13 months from now remains to be seen.

“I think a lot of these legislators made very smart moves to help shore up that Republican brand,” says Professor Bocskor. “They were spot on in targeting what suburban women are concerned about.”

Yet right now, “the biggest issues are health care and immigration and gun control,” says Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “Those are all issues that break badly for Republicans in terms of support from suburban women.”

“We’re not there yet”

Thirteen years after they traded Northern California for North Texas, Melissa and Mike Patruso are beginning to feel more at home – politically, at least – in Watauga, a suburb north of Fort Worth.

“How well Beto did in the election last year – that was surprising,” says Mrs. Patruso, “and good.”

So could 2020 be the year? Will Texas turn blue?

“I don’t think so just yet,” she says. “We’re not there yet.”

Most experts agree that Democrats’ 18-year streak of not winning a statewide race in Texas will probably continue into 2022. Mr. Trump will likely turn out voters who support him as much as he will voters who reject him, and fear of Republicans losing Texas – and its huge cache of 38 electoral votes – could also motivate conservative voters.

Democrats further down the ballot will face a new hurdle next year, with straight-ticket balloting eliminated by the state legislature after the 2018 election. And unlike that election, Republicans in Texas now know they’re in for a fight.

“Democrats won’t be able to take them by surprise this time,” says Mr. Cook, the Democratic strategist. “There’s only one way to run in an atmosphere like this, and that’s to run scared.”  

“Texas is going to be hotly contested,” agrees Senator Cruz. “We will see, I believe, record-setting – in fact, record-shattering – Democratic turnout in 2020, because the far-left is pissed off. They hate the president, and that is a powerful motivator.” For Republicans, he adds, the key will be “to turn everybody else out. If the left shows up in massive numbers, and everybody else doesn’t, that’s how we end up with an incredibly damaging election.”

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2. Could a woman beat Trump? Democrats worry - and hope.

Many Democrats say they support a woman for president, but remain concerned women are less electable than men. That might be a false impression. 

Mark
Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Kamala Harris holds a campaign rally outside at Mack's Apples in Londonderry, New Hampshire, on Sept. 6, 2019.

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Holly supports Sen. Kamala Harris of California for president, but she’s concerned Senator Harris might not be electable because of her gender.

“I absolutely love her, but I don’t know. I’m worried about it,” says Holly, who declined to give her last name.

She’s not alone. Many Democrats say they’d support a female candidate. But many also share a general fear that a woman might not be the best choice to beat President Donald Trump.

This is partly due to lingering shock from Hillary Clinton’s loss. It partly stems from polls that show former Vice President Joe Biden and current Sen. Bernie Sanders furthest ahead of President Trump in nominal matchups.

But ultimately, it’s due to the fact that electability is Democrats’ top concern. Many believe a man might do best among the less-educated white male voters of crucial Rust Belt and Southern states.

Is that true? The 10 states with the most female state legislators are scattered all over the country. Key swing states such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida all have women in Congress.

Experts say some voters may be swayed by gender, but many make more nuanced decisions.

“We are incredibly bad as a society at predicting electability,” says Christina Reynolds of Emily’s List.

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Could a woman beat Trump? Democrats worry - and hope.

Emerging from a Londonderry rally for Sen. Kamala Harris, Holly walks to her car with her head low, weaving through the double-parked cars. A “Kamala for the People” sign hangs limply from one hand.

“I absolutely love her,” says Holly in a fretful tone that doesn’t match her words. “But I don’t know. I’m worried about it.”

A recent swing through New Hampshire rallies turned up a number of Democrats who share Holly’s unease: that a woman might not be the best choice to beat President Donald Trump.

“I think we’re long overdue for a woman president,” says Edna Gabriel, from Revere, Massachusetts, following an event for former Vice President Joe Biden in Laconia, New Hampshire. “But having a woman against Trump, it frightens me.”

“It was my first choice to vote for a woman for president,” adds Susan Walsh, from Norwell, Massachusetts. But “I just see [Mr. Trump] lumbering over [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren during the debate.”

In many ways, the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination has been a breakthrough for women candidates. More have entered the contest, and emerged as serious contenders, than ever before.

At the same time, there is palpable anxiety among Democrats that in the age of Trump, nominating a woman might be too risky. Many voters say they would support – or even prefer – a female Democratic presidential nominee, but they fear other Americans won’t.

Some of this stems from the party’s shellshocked reaction to Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016. Some of it is based on polling that shows Mr. Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders leading President Trump by wider margins than do Senator Harris and Senator Warren.

Ultimately, it reflects the fact that many Democrats are determined to defeat Mr. Trump – and thus are putting electability at the top of their list of desirable nominee qualities. With the 2020 election expected to come down again to a handful of Rust Belt states with a preponderance of less-educated white voters, many urban and educated Democrats find themselves going through mental gymnastics to try to imagine what swing state voters want.

But would a woman really be less electable? It’s important to remember that this assumption could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, says Jennifer Lawless, an expert on gender and politics and a professor at the University of Virginia. True, some voters may judge a candidate based on her gender, but presidential elections and voters’ reactions to candidates are actually far more nuanced than that.

“A woman who was a die-hard Clinton supporter and now likes Warren, she says, ‘I’m not going to do this again. I’m going to support Biden because there’s no way we can win Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania [with a woman],’” she says. “In this case, we are assuming the American people are less evolved than we are.”  

Who’s electable?

“Electability” is a word Democratic voters have prioritized for 2020 candidates in multiple polls. But the candidates who have won before heavily influence whom these voters see as electable. Essentially, that means white men.

In a recent USA Today/Ipsos poll, half of Democrats said a woman would have a harder time than a man running against President Trump in 2020. And while 90% of Democratic respondents said they’d be comfortable with a female president, only 44% said their neighbors would accept a woman in the Oval Office.

“People keep being told, by candidates, pundits, the media, that the electability of women is a problem,” says Christina Reynolds, vice president of communications at Emily’s List, a political action committee to elect Democratic women in favor of abortion rights. “I think it’s a flawed assumption. We are incredibly bad as a society at predicting electability.”

But here’s the problem: The best way to look electable is to get elected, say experts. If Senator Warren wins New Hampshire, where a recent CBS poll has her inching ahead of Mr. Biden, and other early primary states, voters’ sexism fear may fade. But it likely won’t be totally dissolved until a woman wins the presidency.

Look at the past two presidents for example, says Ms. Reynolds. In 2008 the United States questioned the electability of a black man, and in 2016 the country questioned the electability of a reality TV star. This year there seems to have been no question of Sen. Cory Booker’s electability as a black man, and many Democrats were hopeful that the celebrity Oprah Winfrey would announce a bid. 

When speaking to reporters Saturday in Manchester, New Hampshire, Senator Harris said the 2020 presidential race isn’t the first time she’s been confronted with questions about gender and electability. In both of her previous positions, as district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California, she made firsts on the basis of gender and race. 

“I think that there is sometimes a difficulty, and maybe even an inability, for folks to imagine what they’ve not seen before,” says Senator Harris. “It doesn’t mean it’s not possible.” 

And as female Democratic voters across New Hampshire were quick to point out, Mrs. Clinton actually won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes. The former secretary of state lost the Electoral College because of voter turnout in specific geographic pockets of the U.S., a frustration that leads many New Hampshire Democrats to call out regional differences. 

“I forget that everybody doesn’t think like we do,” says Ms. Gabriel from the line to enter Mr. Biden’s rally in Laconia. “We’re used to supporting strong women up here.” 

“In New England we have one mindset and that is different from people down South,” says Claire, who declined to give her last name, while sitting in her sky-blue minivan in a Hannaford’s parking lot in Rochester, New Hampshire. “I think down there people just trust men more, I mean you don’t see a lot of females getting elected down there.” 

Actually, women’s success in politics isn’t geographically constrained, says Ms. Reynolds. If 2016 proved the majority of the country would vote for a woman, then 2018 proved that women could win important races – races in states that lost Mrs. Clinton the Electoral College. Last year Michigan elected a record number of women, including to the U.S. Senate and the top three state offices. Wisconsin reelected Sen. Tammy Baldwin despite a flood of funding to defeat her. Pennsylvania went from having zero women in Congress to four – the largest class of women the state has ever elected. The 10 states with the most women in the state legislature are scattered across the country, and the top three are Nevada, Colorado, and Oregon, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. Women governors reside across the country, including “down there” in Alabama.

“You look at these states, and you see that women win all over the place,” says Ms. Reynolds. “There is certainly sexism in politics, there is sexism in our society, but I also think there [are] a heck of a lot of very engaged women right now who are interested in change in politics.”

Trump’s Achilles’ heel

Derry Town Councilor Joshua Bourdon tells a story about his daughter Sasha when introducing Senator Harris at her Londonderry rally, held at Mack’s Apples.

“I was putting her to bed and she said, ‘Daddy, why can’t a woman be president? Hillary lost and she was great,’” says Mr. Bourdon. Senator Harris nods knowingly. Audience members collectively sighed. 

Several mothers and their daughters came to Mack’s Apples to see Senator Harris, such as Carol Linstid from Amherst, New Hampshire, and her daughter Caitlin. Ms. Linstid watches Senator Harris walk across a stage surrounded by bales of hay and baskets of waxy apples, talking about gun reform and children’s safety. Another mother holds her baby in a “Future Voter” onesie. Two female Londonderry High School students have come, even though they will still be too young to vote in 2020, because it would be “cool” if a woman – this woman – becomes president. 

Pundits and political experts point this out as a benefit: It will excite these women and bring them to the polls. But several New Hampshire voters have a different logic for putting up a female nominee: A woman is best equipped to beat President Trump. 

“Women are Trump’s Achilles’ heel,” says Catherine Johnson, who traveled to Senator Harris’ rally from Hanover, New Hampshire. “He doesn’t know how to deal with strong women.” 

Kathy Hempel and Jennifer Martelli, two friends in mint green “Warren for NH” T-shirts who traveled from Marblehead, Massachusetts, to support Senator Warren at the New Hampshire Democratic Convention the day following the Harris rally, agree with Ms. Johnson. Just look at how Senator Warren defeated incumbent Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown in 2012, says Ms. Martelli.

“We can’t say, ‘We’re afraid so we’re not going to run the best candidate,’” says Ms. Martelli.

“I mean, no one thought that Trump would win,” adds Ms. Hempel.

But, but, but ... the worry persists. Mrs. Clinton seemed a sure thing. She was going to win, break the glass ceiling, and keep Democrats in the White House. The sheer surprise of her loss continues to haunt her female supporters.

“Women in my age group have great doubts,” says Claire. “I mean, just look historically.”

But did Mrs. Clinton lose because she was a woman, or did she lose because she was tied to her husband’s two terms and all their drama, and battered by Republican attacks on her probity while the press heavily covered the FBI investigation into her emails?

“There is no clear evidence that sexism cost Hillary Clinton the election,” says Ms. Lawless. “Hillary’s problems were more the fact that she had the last name ‘Clinton,’ not the fact that she lacked a Y chromosome.”

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3. It’s ‘tangible.’ How ‘Sharpiegate’ touches chord on scientific integrity.

It started with tweets and a marked-up weather map. Some experts now see what’s being called “Sharpiegate” surfacing the idea of scientific independence in a tangible and potentially bipartisan way.

Mark

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It might seem at first like little more than fodder for late-night comedians. The U.S. president tweets incorrectly that Alabama lies in the path of Hurricane Dorian, a National Weather Service office in Alabama offers a corrective, and then the president digs in his heels by appearing on television with a map apparently altered by a marker to include a corner of Alabama in Dorian’s cone of uncertainty. 

But now a House committee has launched an inquiry into news reports on the political pressure brought to bear during the incident, including alleged job threats against political officials at the weather service’s parent agency. And some science experts say the tempest about storm forecasting has resonance because the subject matter spans partisan divides.  

“The weight of it could be measured in the potential harm,” says Joe Friday, a lifelong Republican and former director of the National Weather Service. “One of the most conservative things you can do is try to insist that American lives and property are protected, and that is the mission of the National Weather Service.” 

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It’s ‘tangible.’ How ‘Sharpiegate’ touches chord on scientific integrity.

“Everybody talks about the weather,” a well-known writer once said, “but nobody does anything about it.”  

This adage is being put to the test after the Trump administration apparently pressured the National Weather Service to alter its forecast for Hurricane Dorian.

It all began on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 1, when President Donald Trump tweeted that Alabama lay in the path of Hurricane Dorian. Twenty minutes later the National Weather Service’s Birmingham, Alabama, office tweeted that the storm posed no threat to Alabamans. The president dug in his heels, appearing on television Wednesday with a map that was apparently altered to include a corner of Alabama in Dorian’s cone of uncertainty. 

All of this would have little more than fodder for late-night comedians (and it was), except that it spilled over into the actual operations of a federal bureau tasked with ensuring public safety. On Sept. 6, the National Weather Service’s parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, took the unusual step of issuing an unsigned statement repudiating the Birmingham tweet.

And this week, the Democrat-controlled House Science Committee began investigating the matter, including what chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas called an “alleged threat” by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross “to fire NOAA political officials if they did not fall in line with the White House’s misleading statements.” According to a New York Times report, Mr. Trump personally asked his chief of staff to pressure the weather service to “clarify” its forecast.

How much, really, should we care about this? Some observers say that, while in one sense it was all literally about a passing storm, the incident is becoming a parable for the importance of scientific integrity – and one which has resonance because the subject matter spans partisan divides.  

“The weight of it could be measured in the potential harm that it’s going to do the public,” says Joe Friday, a lifelong Republican and a professor emeritus at the University of Oklahoma School of Meteorology. “One of the most conservative things you can do is try to insist that American lives and property are protected, and that is the mission of the National Weather Service.” 

Public safety at stake

Professor Friday knows firsthand about the politicization of science and its effects. He served as director of the National Weather Service from 1988 to 1997, before being pushed out by the Clinton administration over what sources inside the agency at the time said was his candor over the severity of budget cuts.

“I am very, very much familiar with the deep devotion and integrity that the men and women of the weather service have in carrying out their jobs,” he says. “I have witnessed them watching a tornado go over their own housing area and still maintain the type of support they need for the emergency managers and first responders, all while they were unsure of what was happening to their own families.”

Professor Friday argues that this recent controversy is less about political ideology and more about the dynamics of the president’s psyche.

“The only thing that was at stake here was one individual’s ego,” he says. “And he valued that ego more than he valued the population of Alabama.”

Some emergency-response experts note that, just as public safety can be hampered by official failures to warn, it can also be affected if inaccurate warnings are given. (Not least because false alarms can erode an agency’s credibility.)

Still, what’s being dubbed “Sharpiegate” – after the brand of marker apparently used in altering a map the president pointed to – is just one in a string of instances of the Trump administration politicizing science. Alleged suppression of science on climate change, for example, may have much larger and longer-lasting effects on the nation and its policies.

Yet in some ways “Sharpiegate” has become the most flagrant case, and the public’s attention to it may spark change, says Michael Halpern, the deputy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science & Democracy.

“This is tangible. Everybody knows their local weather person, and they trust weather forecasters,” he says. “It’s been very encouraging to see the meteorology community come together to support their peers and to demand that this kind of thing never happen again.”

A “war on institutions”?

Mr. Halpern, an expert on political interference in science, says members of both political parties have attempted to politicize the work of government scientists, but says Mr. Trump has been taking it to a more extreme level. 

“The Obama administration was not great when it came to allowing people to access experts,” Mr. Halpern says. “Many journalists argued that they were actually worse [than the George W. Bush administration]. ... But clearly the Trump administration is worse in both scope and severity when it comes to sidelining science from policymaking and public information.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a science advocacy nonprofit, says it has documented more than 100 attacks on science from the Trump administration, more than what the George W. Bush administration accumulated over its two terms. Mr. Halpern sees it as part of a larger attack by the Trump administration on groups that aim to provide objective information, including the media, the judiciary, and government-funded research institutes.

“I don’t think science is being singled out in any particular way,” says Mr. Halpern. “I think it’s war on institutions. It’s trying to bring down any kind of institution that is there to provide information that could speak truth to power.”

Science bill in Congress

In July, Mr. Halpern testified before Congress to promote the Scientific Integrity Act, a bill that would protect government scientists from political interference and give them the right to share their findings with the public. The bill, which has 192 House co-sponsors, would create a uniform code of scientific ethics for all federal agencies, one that would supersede the patchwork of codes and statements created under a mandate from the Obama administration.

During the hearing, he said witnesses took aim at both the Obama and Trump administrations. 

“I think that made people think, ‘Oh, actually we do have some common ground here, and there are some steps we can take to reduce corruption and improve the use of science in making policy,’” he says.

Professor Friday agrees that “Sharpiegate” should be viewed not as a dispute between liberals and conservatives, but as a matter of protecting the often challenging work of scientists. 

“What scientific independence means to me,” he says, “is the ability to look at facts objectively, come to a conclusion, and to try to apply that conclusion to actions.”

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4. What does it take to get into college? A snapshot.

How should colleges determine the value of an applicant? On the eve of the sentencing of the first parent in the Varsity Blues cheating scandal, we look at recent data revealing what admissions officers say matters most.

Mark

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When stories about the Varsity Blues cheating scandal and a lawsuit against Harvard University alleging discriminatory admissions practices dominate the news, Americans start to wonder what it takes to get into college – especially for those without deep pockets.

But perhaps more telling is data about what really drives admissions decisions, not only in the top tier but also at a wide range of schools. Just over a third of institutions don’t require applicants to submit SAT/ACT scores, for example. And essay questions and personal statements? More than half don’t consider them.

Those and other details are included in the first survey of a nationally representative sample of colleges and universities by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

As they start talking about and implementing reform, education leaders need to also include some broader self-examination, says Eddie Comeaux, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, who chairs a committee looking at admissions within the UC system. “Are we simply giving the illusion that we’re a champion for change,” he says, “or is this real reform, is this something that’s making the university more hospitable to students?”

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What does it take to get into college? A snapshot.

Actress Felicity Huffman faces sentencing Friday for cheating to boost her daughter’s SAT scores. Between the stream of Varsity Blues headlines and a pending decision in the case accusing Harvard University of discriminating against Asian American applicants, many people have been wondering how American college admissions really work. How heavily do they rely on SAT or ACT scores? How many colleges consider athletics, legacy status, diversity, and other nonacademic factors?

The graphics included here provide an opportunity to step back from the societal obsession over “top” colleges and see a wide variety of admissions practices, reflecting a higher ed system that includes many open-access and moderately selective schools. 

Just over a third of institutions don’t require applicants to submit SAT/ACT scores. Essay questions and personal statements? More than half don’t consider them.

The information comes from the first comprehensive survey of a nationally representative sample of colleges and universities by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

True, the admissions offices that pore over the most criteria are those at the most competitive campuses. And concerns about fair access there are driving many important discussions. 

The College Board, which administers the SAT, recently responded to critics by revising a new system, now called Landscape, to boil down data on students’ high school and neighborhood factors – such as the degree of poverty and crime victimization. It’s meant to boost equity by helping admissions officers put test scores into context.

As admissions reforms take place, educational leaders also need some broader self-examination, says Eddie Comeaux, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, who chairs a committee looking at admissions within the UC system. “Are we simply giving the illusion that we’re a champion for change,” he says, “or is this real reform, is this something that’s making the university more hospitable to students?”

SOURCE: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, Washington D.C.
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Karen Norris/Staff
SOURCE: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, Washington D.C.
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Karen Norris/Staff
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Television

5. Ken Burns on why he lassos stereotypes in ‘Country Music’

Country music’s twangy reputation has long rested on white guys singing about lonesome hearts. But as a new PBS series notes, country’s roots go back to the influences of the black banjo and white fiddle.

Mark
Sony Music Archives/PBS/AP
Johnny Cash is shown at his home in California. The image is used in the Ken Burns documentary "Country Music," which airs on PBS beginning Sept. 15, 2019.

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Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has celebrated the American story as told through the Civil War, baseball, and national parks, among other projects. With country music, he discovered a genre whose roots reflect the nation’s racial diversity. “This music that comes down to us as somehow white has at its origin a black story,” he says.

But over the years, the industry has solidified into a “good ol’ boys” club with women and performers of color often shut out, or at least kept at a distance. Women songwriters have found it difficult to break into the business. And earlier this year, a controversy erupted when African American artist Lil Nas X found his genre-sampling hit “Old Town Road” dumped from the country chart of Billboard. Mr. Burns’ series arrives at a time when the concept of what is “country” is being challenged.

“We are experiencing such an exciting time in music right now,” says Staci Griesbach, who borrows from country and jazz in a new album, “My Patsy Cline Songbook.” “Definitions of musical genres are being questioned, lines are blurring, and the cross-pollination between genres and artists encourages exploration and growth arguably more than ever.”

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Ken Burns on why he lassos stereotypes in ‘Country Music’

Few categories in American popular music are subject to more contentious debate today than country. The genre finds itself rocked by questions of inclusivity: Is there room for women and minority groups in a category that has become closely identified with white males? 

Superstar Sara Evans has said that she feels disconnected from many of the male-oriented songs that receive radio play, including the sometimes chauvinistic songs belonging to the “bro-country” subgenre. And, earlier this year, African American artist Lil Nas X found his genre-sampling hit “Old Town Road” dumped from the country chart of Billboard.

Into this controversy enters acclaimed nonfiction filmmaker Ken Burns, whose eight-part documentary “Country Music” will air starting Sept. 15 on PBS. Although conceived years before the present debates, the film tackles the multifaceted, sometimes contradictory roots of a musical form that is distinctively American.

“It comes from what we call our first episode, ‘The Rub,’ the friction, in the American South between white and black,” Mr. Burns says. “It is the product of the white fiddle from Europe and the black banjo, and it is suffused with the blues.”

A filmmaker usually drawn to large historical topics, including the Civil War and Prohibition, Mr. Burns was distantly familiar with country music, but when a friend suggested a documentary on the genre, he saw the possibilities. “I make films about subjects I want to know more about,” he says, “and then share the process of discovery.”

Working with writer and producer Dayton Duncan, Mr. Burns discovered a genre whose roots reflect the nation’s racial diversity. Among the five members of what he calls the pantheon of early country music – A.P. Carter, Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers, and Hank Williams – four had African American mentors. “This music that comes down to us as somehow white has at its origin a black story,” he says.

Those who make the music are conscious of the crossing of borders, Mr. Burns says, pointing to the example of soul music titan Ray Charles. “When he’s given creative control of an album ... he chooses to record ‘Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music,’” he says, referring to Charles’ 1962 record that integrated country and soul. “Blacks are listening to supposedly white music, and whites are listening to supposedly black music.”

Mr. Burns lays the blame for the exiling of Lil Nas X from the country charts at the feet of “convenience and commerce.” “You can easily understand why Billboard is going to screw up,” he says, but he encourages listeners to keep their ears open. “Why get stuck in their dialectic when the people have spoken” and made this the longest-running No. 1 song ever – by a gay black rapper.

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
Lil Nas X (left) and Billy Ray Cyrus arrive at the BET Awards on June 23, 2019, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.

For his part, Mr. Duncan says that he hopes the documentary helps shed stereotypes, including that of country as “white guy-only” music. “The Carter Family was two women and a guy, and the guy only sang a little,” Mr. Duncan says, referring to pioneers A.P. Carter; his wife, Sara; and his sister-in-law Maybelle. 

Mr. Burns notes that Loretta Lynn recorded “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” the same year that the National Organization for Women was founded. He compares country music to baseball (the subject of an earlier Burns documentary): Both, he says, are seemingly conservative institutions that can accommodate agents of radical change. “Baseball, this sort of harbinger of every traditional value, is the first real progress in race since the Civil War, when Jackie Robinson [goes] out to play first base on April 15, 1947,” he says.

Although the story told in Mr. Burns’ film mostly wraps up with the 1996 death of Bill Monroe and the simultaneous peaking in popularity of Garth Brooks, some current voices in country hope that the genre will embrace its surprisingly diverse heritage. 

“We are experiencing such an exciting time in music right now,” says Staci Griesbach, a singer in Los Angeles who borrows from country and jazz in a new album, “My Patsy Cline Songbook.” “Definitions of musical genres are being questioned, lines are blurring, and the cross-pollination between genres and artists encourages exploration and growth arguably more than ever.” 

Mr. Burns identifies the source of the genre’s appeal: love and loss. Country music speaks to human experience, he says. “We hide it with these tropes of pickup trucks and good ol’ boys.”

While conceding the resiliency of such staples, Ms. Griesbach sees a future in which such clichés are less pronounced. “Perhaps we can loosen our grip and find some space to see what surfaces when we provide a little breathing room,” she says.

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The Monitor's View

Mood lift for climate action

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Three decades of efforts to arrest global warming have inspired many people to adopt solutions. Yet as temperatures keep rising, and many weather disasters are tied to climate change, others have turned fatalistic. On Tuesday, this blue funk received a red flag. A major report from key leaders offered this encouraging news: If significant investments are made in adapting to climate change, they are likely to be paid back as much as tenfold in economic benefits.

That’s the conclusion of the Global Commission on Adaptation, led by three international heavyweights: former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, and Kristalina Georgieva, chief executive of the World Bank. The report’s underlying message, says Mr. Ban, is to counter the notion that it is too late to protect people from disasters like Hurricane Dorian.

The report undercuts the false choice between cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation. Both are possible, with a focus on adaptation being a way to persuade more people to support clean energy. People working together to adapt to climate change might find their expectations lifted to tackle the big task of reducing carbon pollution.

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Mood lift for climate action

Three decades of efforts to arrest global warming have inspired many people to adopt solutions. Yet as temperatures keep rising, and many weather disasters are tied to climate change, others have turned fatalistic – even about adapting to the potential damage. On Sept. 10, this blue funk received a red flag. A major report from key leaders offered this encouraging news: If significant investments are made in adapting to climate change, they are likely to be paid back as much as 10-fold in economic benefits.

That’s the conclusion of the Global Commission on Adaptation, led by three international heavyweights: former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, and Kristalina Georgieva, chief executive of the World Bank. The report’s underlying message, says Mr. Ban, is to counter the notion that it is too late to protect people from disasters like Hurricane Dorian.

“I’m here today to tell you that this is simply not true,” he said.

The report estimates that investments in adaptation could save trillions of dollars in losses by 2030. For example, spending $800 million on a global warning system for storms and heat waves could result in countries avoiding losses of as much as $16 billion annually. In general, for every $1 invested in adaptation, it estimates, between $2 and $10 of net economic benefits would result.

These investments should be made across broad areas, the commission says, including the implementing a global early warning system, protecting shoreline mangroves, improving agricultural techniques, and making water resources more resilient. Without efforts to adapt farming, global agricultural yields could drop by 30% by midcentury – and have their worst effects on the world’s 500 million small farmers.

“If we do not act now, climate change will supercharge the global gap between the haves and the have-nots,” said Mr. Ban.

Will this climate report be yet another one that is soon forgotten? Not likely. In late September, the commissioners will launch a “year of action” at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. They will follow up with public officials and private players to boost investments in adaptation.

The report also undercuts the false choice between cutting greenhouse emissions and adaptation. Both are possible, with a focus on adaptation being a way to persuade more people to support clean energy. People working together to adapt to climate change might find their expectations lifted to tackle the big task of reducing carbon pollution.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Competing for a spot? Think again.

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When a student was faced with a major roadblock to taking a crucial exam, realizing that God meets our needs empowered him to feel calm and confident that a solution would emerge – as it did, just in time.

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Competing for a spot? Think again.

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I had been preparing for my TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam for a while. This test was very important, because I had been studying English at the Congo American Language Institute, and I needed to have my language skills assessed so I could complete my coursework and graduate.

My studying for the test was going fine, and I felt prepared and fairly calm. But then, a few weeks before test day, when I was trying to sign up for the exam, I couldn’t find a seat to take the test in my hometown. It seemed that the only option was to take the test in another city. That would be expensive, though, and there was no way I could afford it. I also didn’t want to delay taking the exam, because I needed the results not just to graduate, but also if I wanted to apply to university.

Even though I was a bit worried, I knew from what I’d been learning in the Christian Science Sunday School I attended that there was something I could do. I could pray. Prayer is a way of seeing that God, who is good, is in control, and understanding this brings needed adjustments to our lives.

I thought about a verse I knew from the Bible’s book of Psalms: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (23:1). Why is it that we can’t want for anything? Because our divine Shepherd, God, is Love, always loving and caring for us. I love what Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, says about divine Love’s supply for all of us: “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 494).

It was so reassuring to remember that God supplies our every need, even when a situation seems hopeless. This includes a permanent place in His universe, which no one can take from us, and which we can’t take from anyone else. Since divine Love provides each of us with whatever we need at every moment, there is no competition for good of any kind. So I could see that the absence of a seat for me to take the test could not be the reality of the situation.

While it was tempting to ask God to fix things, I realized that I didn’t need to, because, as Science and Health states: “God is not influenced by man. The ‘divine ear’ is not an auditory nerve. It is the all-hearing and all-knowing Mind, to whom each need of man is always known and by whom it will be supplied” (p. 7). I realized that my prayers were not so much about asking God for something, as about simply understanding and trusting Love’s provision for all of us. I became calm and felt God’s love for me and everyone.

I continued preparing for the test, leaving the rest to God and feeling so sure that something good would happen. And it did! Two weeks before the end of registration, I received an email telling me that new test rooms had been added for my city. This gave me the opportunity to sign up for the test with no additional expenses.

Isn’t it great when we trust God to take care of us? I keep learning more about God’s care, and that we really can have what we need without competing with anyone else.

Adapted from an article published in the Christian Science Sentinel’s online TeenConnect section May 21, 2019.

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Paging Wonder Woman

Michael Probst/AP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel climbs out of a transparent car with security devices during her visit to the IAA Auto Show in Frankfurt, Germany, Sept. 12, 2019.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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( September 13th, 2019 )

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back tomorrow when staff writer Laurent Belsie looks at whether Big Tech has fallen from grace, and what that might mean for the culture and economy.

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